The American Farm Bureau Federation reported that the average 10-person Thanksgiving meal, including turkey, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, peas, cranberry sauce, as well as a vegetable tray as an appetizer and pumpkin pie and coffee for dessert, cost $48.90.
Since I live in the New York area, where food prices are higher than the national average, I decided to see whether I could do a made-from-scratch Thanksgiving dinner for just eight people for the same money. To keep things relatively consistent to the Farm Bureau, I opted for a menu of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and crescent rolls, as well as apple pie and coffee for dessert.
The final shopping list for Thanksgiving dinner came to 22 items and, for the purposes of my test, I assumed that I would already have on hand pantry staples like flour, oil, salt and pepper. I took that list to five popular grocery chains: Acme, Aldi, Trader Joe's, Walmart and Whole Foods.
Here's how I fared buying my ingredients while trying to keep to my budget at these stores. I've ranked them in order from the most to the least expensive shopping experience.
- Grocery total: $99.85
- Price per person: $12.48
- Turkey price: $2.59/lb.
Whole Foods was a surprise. Although the total for a Thanksgiving meal for eight people was about $100 here, or twice what I'd budgeted, that's still far less than I expected, considering the store's reputation and the fact that almost all of the ingredients I selected were organic.
A 12-pound turkey was almost $30, for example, but it was fresh and antibiotic-free. Even the French fried onions ($2.99, on sale) were gluten-free.
If you're looking to purchase a high-quality meal for your family this Thanksgiving, Whole Foods may be for you. At a cost of about $12.50 per person, it's still probably less than you'd spend dining out.
- Grocery total: $78.66
- Price per person: $9.83
- Turkey price: $1.99/lb.
It was difficult to stay on track at Trader Joe's, since the store had so many delicious-looking prepackaged side dishes and desserts. But I was going for DIY, so I avoided the cornbread stuffing, caramel cinnamon monkey bread and Nantucket-style cranberry pie.
A 12.58-lb. turkey at Trader Joe's set me back just over $25, but it was a better value than the comparable one offered at Whole Foods. Specialty, seasonal items like French fried onions also upped the total price of the meal, which came in over budget at almost $70.
All said, I think Trader Joe's is a great option for those looking for a semi-homemade meal. The store offers cornbread stuffing mix for $3.99 and a jar of cranberry sauce for just $1.99. They even have a turkey and stuffing en croute dish (turkey tenderloin rolled around cornbread stuffing and covered in puff pastry) for just $12.99.
- Grocery total: $67.68
- Price per person: $8.46
- Turkey price: $1.79/lb.
Acme advertises a lot of deals this holiday season, but you need to read the fine print. I got a loaf of bread for free with the chain's rewards programs, for example, but these offerings change weekly. The chain was also offering free turkeys to customers who spent over $100 through Nov. 15, 2018.
That said, Acme's in-store prices for several of the ingredients I needed, like butter ($3.99) and French fried onions ($2.99), were among the most expensive of any grocery chain I visited. In the end, I couldn't get everything I needed for $50.
Like many conventional grocery chains, Acme is a convenient option that rewards loyalty. If you're looking to do your weekly shopping and pick up some Thanksgiving-specific ingredients as well, Acme can provide some savings.
- Grocery total: $48.26
- Price per person: $6.08
- Turkey price: $0.59/lb.
Aldi delivers a lot of bang for your buck: I was able to get all my ingredients here and stay in budget. The chain wasn't the absolute cheapest, but I walked out of Aldi with a larger amount of food than I was able to get for $50 at any of the other stores. And some of that can last me far beyond Thanksgiving.
Plus, at $0.59 per pound, their turkeys were the best price I found.
What made Aldi slightly more expensive than Walmart was the fact that Aldi had more limited produce options. Instead of being able to buy a single orange, for example, I had to buy a whole bag. The store offered only a 10-pound bags of Russet potatoes, too, way more than I needed, so I bought a 5-pound bag of red potatoes.
Aldi also offers organic and low-fat options that are in line with Walmart's offerings, price-wise. A can of low-fat cream of mushroom soup for green bean casserole was $0.49 at Aldi, about the same as $0.50 for the regular version at Walmart.
If you're looking to incorporate some organic or healthier options into your Thanksgiving dinner without breaking the bank, Aldi is a great bet.
It's worth noting that Aldi U.S. and Trader Joe's are independently operated companies with distinct but once-related corporate parents. It could be said that Aldi and Trader Joe's are "estranged cousins."
- Grocery total: $45.18
- Price per person: $5.65
- Turkey price: $0.68/lb.
It's probably not a surprise that the chain that prides itself on its "Always Low Prices" is in fact the place where you can purchase all the ingredients for a homemade Thanksgiving meal for cheap. I got everything I needed and had $5 to spare. Walmart's prices for Thanksgiving ingredients were about 45 percent less than comparable prices on products at Whole Foods.
I'm not a regular Walmart shopper (the nearest store is a little far for me for regular visits), but I was impressed with the selection. The shelves were fully stocked and they did have organic options, although not at the low prices of their Good Value brand.
I also like that the store, like Trader Joe's, offers pre-packaged options for busy families and people who aren't crazy about cooking. The celery I bought from Walmart ($1.18) was actually a package of celery sticks you could toss into a child's lunch.
Overall, I think Walmart offers a great bargain for anyone on a tight budget. Being able to spend just $6 per person for a meal with a main course, four sides and dessert is a great value.
This chart breaks down the prices I found for all of the items in my Thanksgiving recipes at the five different stores I tried.
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